Monday, August 5, 2013

SCENE STEALERS--Those Rascals!

In my first novel, All My Hopes and Dreams (published in 2007 and still available), I wrote a secondary character named Starr Hidalgo. Starr's family owned the ranch next to the Romero family ranch, run by Ricardo Romero, the son and hero of my novel. Ricardo impulsively married a girl from East Texas named Cynthia Harrington, and since she was not from Spanish descent, she did not fit in.
But Starr did, and she did everything she could to break up Ricardo's marriage. She set her sights on him, and joined forces with Ricardo's mother to devise all kinds of ways to run off Cynthia.

Readers told me Starr Hidalgo would have been a better choice for Ricardo, and perhaps so. But Starr  was a walk-on, someone I used to stir up trouble. How did I write Cynthia, so, that in the end, she would equal Starr's passion and pure grit? It wasn't easy, but Cynthia learned many lessons, and yes, she did stand up to Starr, her evil mother-in-law, and even her husband.
But Starr almost stole the show.

Writing a good secondary character can be tricky. You don't want her/him to steal the scene--or ruin an entire story.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Red River, starring John Wayne as a cattle rancher, and Montgomery Clift as his adult adopted son. The story is about the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas on the Chisholm Trail. During the drive, John Wayne, the star of the movie and story, decides on one direction, but his adopted son disputes that decision, telling John Wayne there is a better way. They bitterly argue, and Montgomery Clift wins, taking the men and cattle with him.

What is strange about this scene, is that the adopted son becomes the hero of the movie, and John Wayne is forced to leave. The drive is successful, but the adopted son and father meet up once again in a bitter argument and fight.

I have never understood why the writer of the story allowed the son to be the hero, forcing his father--John Wayne--to step aside. In my opinion, this is a case of Scene Stealing. The secondary character became the hero.

In Gone With the Wind, Prissy steals the scene when Scarlet yells at her to help with the birthing of a baby. Prissy whines, wrings her hands, and cries, "But I don' know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies!" Who could forget that great scene, and Prissy completely stole it from Scarlet.

Many actresses and actors have become known because of stealing a scene from the lead.

I Googled "Scene Stealers" and found a large number of examples. It's fun to read who and how the person stole the scene.

Last night, I watched Splendor in the Grass for about the sixth time. Each time I've watched it, I noticed scenes I didn't remember before. The movie is actually kind of messy, in that too much happened in some of the scenes--too many characters, too much yelling and incessant talking, and the same characters whining. I also noticed more violence than I ever had before.

However, the fact is that no one, not one character in any scene stole it from Natalie Wood. She almost stood out with a glow around her. In the midst of some huge rumbling scene, those big
brown eyes and her unique presence always came through. She might as well have been carrying a big sign that read, "I am the star and don't you forget it."

She was very special, in my opinion.
No one could steal her scene.

In my current Work in Progress, TEXAS DREAMER, I wrote in a character named Conrad Taylor. Oh, wow, I wrote him so well he stole the show and the heroine for a few pages. I knew this could not happen, so I quickly took him off the page by sending him back to his own job. No one talked about or thought about Conrad. But later in the novel, he does reappear--is he really the villain? Or will he turn out to be a good guy, perhaps a hero of his own?

Will he be a scene stealer after all?
I really hope not. But now that I've written a very good character, probably he'll have his own story someday.

Scene Stealers. Do you remember one in a movie? There were actually quite a few.
Do you remember writing one in a novel?
Is a Scene Stealer memorable?



  1. In 'The American President', I think there are quite a few scene stealers among the President's staff, especially Michael J Fox and Martin Sheen.
    My scene stealer was Ralph in 'Changing the Future'. One of my reviewers said he was "one of the best supporting characters that I have read in a very long time."
    Must admit I love it when those secondary characters become as real as the hero and heroine.

  2. Sometimes I enjoy writing the secondary characters more than the main characters because the rules are different for secondaries. They can be more out-there in behavior, dress, and dialog.

    I don't mind when a secondary character steals a scene as Prissy did in the birthing scene you mentioned. They just can't steal all the scenes....

    Great provocative post.


  3. Paula--I remember The American President...yes, MJ Fox stole scenes..he has a way about him, doesn't he. And Martin Sheen was fabulous.
    If you start thinking, you'll remember all kinds of scene stealers.
    I, too, like a Scene stealer in some cases.
    I love my Conrad Taylor. He's as much a character as my hero and heroine.
    Thanks for your always come up with something different.

  4. Maggie--I, too, like a scene stealer in some cases. But Splendor in the Grass--not even the drunken, flapper, neurotic sister of Warren Beaty could steal a scene--as much as she tried.
    Prissy--that role set her on more role in several films. I don't recall her in anything, but I did learn she went on to be a sought after character--not always Prissy types, either.

  5. I love secondary characters. They're often quirky, endearing or the one with the information--the geek.
    I really enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I loved the snobby, popular girl, Cordilia and the villainous, but very funny Spike the vampire--scene stealers, both.
    I wrote a secondary character in Harmonica Joe's Reluctant Bride that I got a bit carried away with, Banjo the homeless teenager with courage and heart. I finally gave up and gave him his own story.
    Great blog.

  6. Celia, I have a secondary couple whose romance almost stole the book from the main characters in my soon-to-be released Full Circle. In fact, when the book was published in 2008, I had to remove them from the book entirely! Now for the first time, their love story will be told. I often have strong secondary charactrs who have minds of their own and run away from me.

  7. I've thought about writing a book featuring Dora, who was my hero, Danny's second love interest in Two Wrongs, my debut book, but so far haven't gotten around to it. She has to stand in line until other books are done!

    Morgan Mandel

  8. Sarah--I remember Banjo, the homeless teenagers. Young people, yes, can steal scenes probably more often than adults.
    I Googled the topic and found pages of lists of kinds of scene stealers. Some were very entertaining...most I'd never heard of because I don't watch the kind of movies they were using.
    Thanks so much for your input.

  9. Linda--That was a shame the editor deleted so many scenes between your secondary characters. But now you will have it as you wrote it in the first place.
    You never sent the re-done cover of Full Circle. But I'll see it eventually.
    Thank you for always commenting. I appreciate every word.

  10. Morgan--Oh, but you will write about Dora. Good characters won't leave you alone until you do!
    Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Enjoyed your post, Celia. I love scene stealers. Haha I find supporting players in a film or secondary characters in a novel so interesting. I try to really develop secondary characters, and find they add so much to a book -- whether it is serving as a confidante for the hero or heroine, keeping a secret for some mysterious reason or adding a dash of humor that the hero or heroine can play off of in a scene (or throughout the book). One of my favorite scene stealers is a maid named Polly in my first book, The Sense of Honor. In my new time travel Whisper in the Wind, a young, rather simple-minded cowboy named Billy Haywood was a definite scene stealer. He went from comic relief to unknowingly playing a significant part in the hero solving a life and death puzzle. And I agree about Natalie Wood. One of my favorite films of hers is Love With The Proper Stranger with dynamic Steve McQueen...and he didn't stand a chance in their scenes together -- although he was perfect in the role.

  12. Ashley-I think it's fun to write offbeat characters and give them a major scene or role, and it's even better if they steal it, I think.
    I enjoyed reading some of the articles I Googled about Scene Stealers. Especially in movies. I'd never heard of many of the movies, so those went over my head. But knowing about those I had, made it fun to read.
    Thanks for your input--I enjoy reading your comments.

  13. Celia, it's strange how we each see stories and characters in different lights. I too love Red River. It's my favorite western of all time precisely because of the father-son relationship. I view John Wayne and Montgomery Clift as co-stars. Wayne's character is the strong father figure used to giving orders and being obeyed. Clift, the so, loves and respect his father, but there comes a time when he must stand against him in order to save the cattle drive from disaster and stop "Daddy" from dealing out too harsh punishment. It's the quarrel and the eventual way the two men come back together, showing their love for one another, that enthralls me.

    Red River was the inspiration for my inclusion of a cattle drive in Dashing Irish.

  14. Lyn! I'm so glad you told me this. Hardly anyone liked Red River as much as I did. I loved the eventual reconciliation of the father and son...but it took a woman to force them to apologize and start anew.
    The other thing that was intriguing was that it used the first cattle drive on what we call The Old Chisholm Trail, when then it was nothing until this first drive. I find that very interesting.
    Thanks! I enjoyed reading your post.

  15. Enjoyed your post, Celia. A lot of times the secondary characters are more fun. In my recent release, I had two secondary characters that repeatedly tried to run away with the scenes they were in. I couldn't sit on them but had to promise them their own book somewhere down the line. LOL Keep up the good posts!